SUN Hockey Pool

Kipper playing too much?

Calgary Flames'Matt Pelech knocks the puck out of the air while goalie Miikka Kiprusoff looks on.  ...

Calgary Flames'Matt Pelech knocks the puck out of the air while goalie Miikka Kiprusoff looks on. (REUTERS/Liam Richards)

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:23 PM ET

Miikka Kiprusoff doesn’t usually steal the spotlight so early.

The Flames better hope he doesn’t burn out prematurely as a result.

Playing six periods in three pre-season appearances so far, Kiprusoff is also slated to play a full game either Friday or Sunday in the final two exhibition tuneups against the Oilers before the team opens its regular-season Thursday in Edmonton.

The plan is to have Kiprusoff, and the rest of the Flames full-timers, get off to a great start to the 2010-11 NHL campaign by having them heavily involved even in early pre-season games.

“It is a little bit different philosophy,” said head coach Brent Sutter. “The bottom line is we want to be a better team and we want to make sure we have a good start to our season.

“We’ve got to get guys in regular-season form.”

Let the debate begin over whether or not it’s a good idea to risk the health of your star goaltender in meaningless games.

Against the New York Islanders Wednesday night in Saskatoon, Flames defencemen had to steer a big-bodied and hard-headed Zenon Kenopka away from Kiprusoff’s crease on a couple of occasions.

The agile netminder only took contact on one occasion, but Flames brass has to be holding its collective breath every time someone rushes toward the blue paint in the pre-season when last year’s team MVP is tending the twine.

Backup goaltender Henrik Karlsson has been stellar in his exhibition action but, let’s be honest, the Flames’ playoff hopes hinge on Kiprusoff holding the fort more than any other variable this season.

Known over the years as a bit of a slow starter, Kiprusoff’s early pre-season action does seem to be going according to Sutter’s plan.

The fit-as-he’s-ever-been Finn has been rock-solid in stints against the Vancouver Canucks and Tampa Bay Lightning at the Saddledome, and the Islanders in Saskatoon.

He’s allowed five goals in the equivalent of two full games of action and has made a handful of spectacular side-to-side saves and flashed his quick glove hand.

“I already played a few games and started feeling better and better,” Kiprusoff said of the early work. “It’s good. It’s different. I haven’t played in a few months, since the last real game. If you practise hard, it’s still different. When you play some games, it’s easier to get back your timing in game situations.

“I don’t mind it.”

If an Oilers brute takes a run at him in his final appearance, that opinion might change.

So would the Flames’ chances at a bounce-back season if Kiprusoff suffers a serious injury.

No one should be worried about the pre-season workload tiring him out down the stretch — especially if Karlsson can continue his impressive play and spell the 33-year-old veteran more than his previous nine backups were capable of doing with confidence — but his health is more important than any other Flame.

There are no agreements between clubs meeting in the pre-season. No friendly handshakes or code of honour.

Teams are using their last couple of games to make tough decisions about who cracks the final roster. For those who have locked up spots, they’re expected to play the way they would in the regular-season.

Against the very team against which they open the live-bullet games, why wouldn’t guys like Jean-Francois Jacques, Zack Stortini, Colin Fraser or Steve MacIntyre do their best to get in Kiprusoff’s cage?

That’s exactly what they’ll be expected to do Thursday night at Rexall Place in the opener.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/MacfarlaneSteve


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